May 28, 2020
Getting to the island of Norway was not exactly what Carlo Facchino portrayed as the great finish of his polar line in the summer of 2017. But the line-up, which the man had never finished before, proved unpredictable all the way.
Facchino's entire rowing career had evolved from unpredictable events, starting with a broken leg in high school that forced him to face team rowing in college from playing football. The repetitive, exhausting nature of rowing led him to develop a love of endurance sports, which included triathlons, ultramarathons, high-strength cycling races, and, finally, ocean rowing.
After rowing a competing team in New York and returning to his home state of California as a collegiate rowing coach, Facchino was recruited to compete and row in the Pacific Race with teammates from Iceland, Brazil and France.
It was his first experience in a rowing competition of this caliber: four crew members on a 40-day boat for 40 days.
"It was so perfect when we knew we were moving from point A to point B across this giant ocean on our own," Facchino said. "It's a very cool concept."
They won the world record and Facchino was hooked.
Facchino, along with some members of the same Pacific race team, came up with the idea to travel from Norway to the Arctic Ocean – as far as possible. This would be the first recorded line of this route, which was both exciting and completely unprecedented. They spent several months preparing for a journey whose conditions could not be foreseen.
"Everything was unknown because no one had ever done it before," Facchino said. "We had to learn pretty much just by trial and error."
The journey was divided into two parts. The first was from Norway to Svalbard, which was about 750 miles and 9 days long, and the second was north of Svalbard to the Arctic Ocean.
Many of the lessons the team had to learn were the result of cold weather and water. The six-man team rowed in shifts – 90 minutes in and 90 minutes free 24 hours a day. During the 26-boat rowing, the men were exposed to all elements – cold air, even colder water, crashing waves, and sometimes a layer of sea so thick that they could not see them in front or behind.
The team also shoveled cold food to give them time to sleep during the shift, paddled into wet clothes so they could keep their dry or wet clothes for the cabin, and slept almost on top of each other in the cramped cabin.
The first major problem they encountered was that their desalination water pump did not have enough force to push through the salt as the colder water became denser with the salt. The team was forced to use a hand pump and – to get enough water for six men – a team member had to pump water instead of a row.
During the second stage of the voyage, in the Arctic Ocean, the boat got into the Arctic Ocean, where the water temperature dropped to about 2 degrees. With this colder water came massive ice streams and icebergs, around which the team was forced to navigate.
"We really had to stop, get our oars out of the boat and start driving the icebergs out of the way," Facchino said.
After successful navigation in icy waters, the challenges of the polar line team were not over. They were hit by strong storms knocking on the waves above the boat, soaking passers-by.
"We tried to row, but we were constantly wet, so our hands and feet were extremely cold," Facchino said. "We all suffered from frostbite without a cold – not quite frostbite, but just cold enough that our nerves started to die."
During these storms, there was no need to recharge their electronics in the sunlight, and eventually the crew paddled across the ocean without navigating.
Fortunately, Facchino had purchased an inReach satellite communicator for the trip. He had intended to use it primarily as a tracking device so that trackers could track team progress through MapShare ja and ultimately have an unprecedented number of permanent records.
When their electronics could not be charged, Facchino also used the inReach communication and navigation device.
"When we had to save our energy, I always used inReach to send text messages and update my family," Facchino said.
He kept it attached to the boat for a row even in a real emergency. Although the risk of them getting into the ship was quite low when it happened or when someone separated from the boat, the survival rate was also low.
Faced with the cold, tired of beating at sea and worried about the lack of a battery and navigational aids, Facchino and other crew members decided to head to a small small Norwegian island. The island, where the Norwegian Navy metrology station is located, had only about 18 inhabitants.
The Norwegian member, who was rowing in the first stage of the polar trip, granted the rowing team permission to land on the island. While there, they met with warm hospitality and food. After several weeks, the team, who decided that it would not be wise to continue the rowing trip, realized that they had failed.
Eventually, the Norwegian Coast Guard made an early trip to refuel the diesel tanks on the island, and the crew was able to return to mainland Norway. Although the never-before-predicted line was unpredictable in duration, it was ultimately successful.
Today, Facchino is still driving, but lately his time has been spent on the land a little more than before. He is the director of a series of triathlons and is waiting for some "Fastest Known Time" track test in his home country.
But whether he is looking for records on land or at sea, he still carries his research.
"It's reassuring to have something when I should be able to communicate when something should happen," he said. "This additional safety factor is a completely reassuring thing."
NOTICE: Access to the IRIDIUM satellite network for real-time monitoring and messaging, including SOS capabilities, requires an active satellite subscription. Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communications equipment. It is the user's responsibility to know and comply with all applicable laws in the jurisdictions in which the device is intended.
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